Lessons from my Personal Struggles
My lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression has taught me a few things.
- I learned what is means to “endure to the end,” to choose life over suicide and death. (“To be, or not to be — that is the question.”)
- My depression gave me a glimpse of “outer darkness.”
- I realized I was never truly alone.
- I came to know that my mental illness was not the result of unrighteousness.
- I learned that through (1) faith in the Lord and the Gospel, (2) spiritual guidance, (3) medication, (4) therapy, (5) behavior modification, and (6) the loving support of family and friends, that I could not only survive, but thrive.
- I came to know that my mental health limitations did not make me worthless or “worth less.”
1. Recognize the causes, warning signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Some warning signs:
- You frequently feel like crying, but don’t know why.
- You feel trapped or boxed in with no way out.
- You feel anxious but can’t tell why.
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities.
- Decreased energy and increased fatigue.
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
- Persistent thoughts of death or suicide.
- Difficulty sleeping or staying awake.
- Chronic headaches or digestive disorders.
2. Beware the Myths of Mental Illness
- Some myths:
- If you live the gospel you won’t have mental health challenges.
- Someone is to blame for mental illness.
- All people need to cure mental illness is a priesthood blessing.
- Mentally ill people just lack will power.
- Mental illness doesn’t strike children and young people.
- Mental illness is untreatable.
(See: Elder Alexander B. Morrison, “Myths About Mental Health,” Ensign, Oct 2005)
3. Remember: God loves you and you are not alone.
Here are a few of the successful people who struggled with mental illness:
- Abraham Lincoln
- Isaac Newton
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Winston Churchill
- Charles Dickens
- George Albert Smith
- Harold B. Lee
- Jeffrey R. Holland
4. Make your personal well-being your first priority.
5. Get priesthood and professional help.
6. Develop a positive attitude and lifestyle.
7. Learn the skills for coping (“skill power” not just “will power”)
- “Fake it until you make it” in getting out of bed, exercising, eating, etc.
- Surround yourself with soothing and uplifting music.
- Exercise to burn off excess adrenalin in the body and increase “happy” endorphins in the brain. (Going for a walk is one of the best exercises.)
- Reward yourself every day by doing something that brings joy, like a figurative or literal hot fudge sundae.
- Practice big full-face smiles (with or without a mirror). (“Act as if” you are happy, and then you will be happy. Big Cheshire Cat smiles can actually trigger “happy” endorphins in the brain.)
- Spend time outside in the sun. (This stimulates anti-depressants in the brain.)
- Count your blessings every day.
- Take breaks from the hectic minutia of daily living. (“Smell the roses.” “Be still and know that I am God.” Ponder and meditate.)
- Keep a journal. (Focus on witnessing the hand of the Lord in your life each day.)
- Be willing to “Just Say No” when it is necessary to preserve your personal health. (“Just do what you can.” Remember, “there is a time and a season.” The Lord does not expect us to run faster than we have strength.)
Use slow and deep breathing exercises to calm your body, mind, and spirit.
- Use the autogenics techniques of creating warmth and heaviness (the physical sensations of relaxation) throughout your body, starting with your extremities.
- Use the progressive relaxation techniques of flexing and relaxing muscles throughout your body, starting with your extremities.
- Use visualization techniques to “travel” to someplace wonderful. (Like, day dreaming.)
- Use biofeedback devices, like a finger thermometer, to increase reduce anxiety by increasing circulation to the extremities.
- “Repel ANTS” (Automatic Negative Thoughts) by using rubber band on the wrist and snapping whenever you have a negative thought — a type of aversion therapy.
8. Maintain your personal physical and spiritual strength
Your mental health is interconnected with your physical and spiritual health. Remember, you are more than your mental health challenges.
9. Serve others
As you serve others, you become an instrument in the hands of the Lord, and he will work through you despite your inadequacies. In so doing, he draws you closer to him. Serving others helps take your mind of your own problems.
10. Cast your burdens on your Savior
“Cast your burdens upon the Lord and he will sustain you.” (Ps 55:22)
“Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:30)
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (Jn 14:27)